News: Air defenders strike first for equality in Kuwait
Story by Staff Sgt. Regina Machine
CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait – “Strike First” is a motto that has long been with the Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 44th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, based out of Fort Hood, Texas, and they live up to that motto.
Soldiers from 1-44 ADA and volunteers from units at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait hosted Camp Arifjan’s first ever “Pride Night” on June 28 as part of national Pride Month 2014.
Pride Month, declared by Presidential Proclamation on May 30, recognized the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Americans and the need to work toward equality in our society. The president also called upon the people of the United States “to eliminate prejudice everywhere it exists, and to celebrate the great diversity of the American people.”
Being the first of its kind, the unit initially couldn’t gauge the possible response to their event.
“It was a bit nerve wrecking because we had no idea what the turnout would be, or if we would encounter any resistance. We couldn’t estimate if there would be only ten people to show up, or hundreds,” said Capt. David Endter, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1-44 ADA.
“Once word got out that we were hosting the event, we started getting emails from units across the camp asking for more information, and what they could do to participate and to put the word out to their own units to let people know what was going on. It put things in perspective that this is something that the Soldiers really wanted to celebrate and observe.”
There was a turnout of over 70 people for the evening’s events. The event kicked off with opening remarks from guest speaker Col. Linda Jantzen, commander, 160th Signal Brigade, based out of Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. Colonel Jantzen addressed the impact of changes throughout military history and on how life in the military has changed since the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don't Tell (DADT).
The evening continued with a viewing of the documentary “Coming Out Under Fire.” The film, which came out shortly after the implementation of DADT, shared the stories of veterans who served during World War II and addressed how homosexuality was handled during that time. It described how gay and lesbian service members had to hide their orientation, but also how they made friends. For some, it was how they met their partners. The documentary also covered how gay service members were targeted by policies that could remove them from service if they were found to be homosexual.
Following the documentary, Capt. Endter led the group in an open forum discussion. This gave Soldiers the opportunity to share testimonials, provide feedback on their experiences and address issues that developed as a result of their sexual orientation.
After the open forum, the participants were greeted by instructors of Camp Arifjan’s Zumba class who offered a high-intensity warm-up session in preparation of the Pride Night Equality 5K Shadow Run. The run shadowed the annual Chicago “Proud to Run” 5K. The participants lit up the night with glow sticks as a way to display their freedom of expression and appreciation of LGBT equality.
Major Matthew Wood, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 108th Sustainment Brigade, based out of Chicago, Illinois, was one of the key leaders in putting the evening’s festivities together. “All of the activities that 1-44 ADA and OutServe worked to put on during Pride Month were a huge success. I heard nothing but positive comments coming from many of the participants. It was an honor to work on planning Camp Arifjan's celebration and recognition of the efforts of the Department of Defense’s lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members. While we obviously have a ways to go, it was great to see such a turnout.”
The event was a strong success and showed that the U.S. military is stronger and more capable because of its diverse population and its values that place equality and unity first.